When Austin Chauncey learned he would need to spend an extra semester in college due to ineffective academic advising, he decided to change the process for good. Chauncey’s business partner, Melanie Wertzberger, experienced similar frustrations in college: academic advising that slowed graduation goals rather than assisted them. For students wishing to avoid higher student loans and universities looking to increase graduation rates, no one benefits from the system as it is.
Over the last two years, Chauncey and Wertzberger designed, built and promoted an advising platform solution called AdviseMe, which recently won first place at Manhattan’s entrepreneurial pitch competition, StartUp MHK. Already a fully functional platform, AdviseMe is currently beta testing with plans to scale. It seemed fitting to find Chauncey and Wertzberger in the Entrepreneurship Center inside Kansas State’s College of Business. Over a cup of coffee between classes, Chauncey and Wertzberger, both seniors, discussed the problem AdviseMe is solving, the business they’re developing, and their vision for its future.
MHK Business: How did the idea for AdviseMe come to you?
Chauncey: In my first few years of college at an out-of-state university and at K-State, I had several advisors, but none of them were truly helpful. My first positive experience with an advisor was my computer science advisor at K-State. I heard my friends were taking extra semesters due to poor planning, and this led us to do more research. One study we found showed three out of four students spend more time in university than needed. So it was clear this was a more universal problem.
Wertzberger: I had to do course planning in a spreadsheet on my own. Most students who are doing this successfully are doing it on their own. When I saw his initial idea sketched out, I thought, ‘This would make it so much easier,’ because every time you visit the advisor, it feels like you’re starting from scratch.
MHK Business: It sounds like change is long overdue in the advising world. How did you come up with the specific model for AdviseMe?
Chauncey: Kansas State uses a system called DARS for advising, which has a fifth of the functionality of our platform. It’s very hard to interpret. We did market research and based the idea off other programs out there but added features they were lacking. User-friendliness is a big benefit of our platform.
MHK Business: How far developed is AdviseMe at this point?
Chauncey: We now have a fully functional prototype. So far, about 20 to 30 people have tested it. Everyone I’ve shown it to wonders where this type of program has been all this time. One of the main features is the user friendliness. Students can see from the interface where to click to select a course, then drag and drop it into their planning schedule.
MHK Business: If everyone has been impressed with the idea so far, what have been some of the challenges you’ve encountered during pitch or development?
Chauncey: I’ve gotten all great feedback on the program, but the bad part about that is when we first got together and showed the prototype to leaders on campus, they would say it was great but would refer me to someone else. I spent six months to a year talking to different people. Once I talked to the Dean of Business, he was excited and able to get it started. Another challenge was the initial impression this would take away advisors jobs, but that’s not the case at all. It’s actually the opposite.
Wertzberger: Exactly. This will enhance the advising situation and allow them to focus on professional development and not just course planning. With AdviseMe, once students get into advising appointments, they can have more meaningful conversations with their advisor because the planning part will be so much easier.
MHK Business: For a someone just hearing about the platform, sell them on AdviseMe in a few sentences.
Wertzberger: Parents and students want a lot of value for their money. Our product personalizes the process and saves you money when you don’t have to take extra courses. With graduation and retention rates are declining, we think our product benefits universities by helping students see how much they have left and stay motivated to achieve their full degree.
Chauncey: Universities are struggling to accurately predict ahead of time the right number of courses to offer, but our data analytics would allow them to better see how many students in a certain major or graduating year were planning to attend a class a year or more in advance.
MHK Business: What’s coming in the next two years for AdviseMe?
Wertzberger: We’re working with an advising board in the College of Business and the Assistant Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and we’re establishing an LLC. We’d like to hire a software developer to speed up development. That would be the most valuable knowledge that we could pick up, but we need someone who will fit our team’s personality.
Chauncey: In one or two years, I’d like to have four to five schools under our belt and looking to scale. We will be using our initial income and funding to integrate with K-State’s single sign-on authentication that students are already using. And then, we will want to scale quickly so major players aren’t mimicking our product, so we will use part of our income for growth.
Sarah Siders is a freelance writer, author and small business coach who specializes in leadership and healthy relationships.